The protocols and practices of dating, and the terms used to describe it, vary considerably from country to country and over time.While the term has several meanings, the most frequent usage refers to two or more people exploring whether they are romantically and/or sexually compatible by participating in dates with the other.

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Each culture has particular patterns which determine such choices as whether the man asks the woman out, where people might meet, whether kissing is acceptable on a first date, the substance of conversation, who should pay for meals or entertainment, Since dating can be a stressful situation, there is the possibility of humor to try to reduce tensions.

For example, director Blake Edwards wanted to date singing star Julie Andrews, and he joked in parties about her persona by saying that her "endlessly cheerful governess" image from movies such as Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music gave her the image of possibly having "lilacs for pubic hair"; While the term dating has many meanings, the most common refers to a trial period in which two people explore whether to take the relationship further towards a more permanent relationship; in this sense, dating refers to the time when people are physically together in public as opposed to the earlier time period in which people are arranging the date, perhaps by corresponding by email or text or phone.

Dating as an institution is a relatively recent phenomenon which has mainly emerged in the last few centuries.

From the standpoint of anthropology and sociology, dating is linked with other institutions such as marriage and the family which have also been changing rapidly and which have been subject to many forces, including advances in technology and medicine.

Neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky constructed a reproductive spectrum with opposite poles being tournament species, in which males compete fiercely for reproductive privileges with females, and pair bond arrangements, in which a male and female will bond for life.

These species-particular behavior patterns provide a context for aspects of human reproduction, including dating.

Today, the institution of dating continues to evolve at a rapid rate with new possibilities and choices opening up particularly through online dating.

Social rules regarding dating vary considerably according to variables such as country, social class, religion, age, sexual orientation and gender.

However, one particularity of the human species is that pair bonds are often formed without necessarily having the intention of reproduction.

In modern times, emphasis on the institution of marriage, generally described as a male-female bond, has obscured pair bonds formed by same-sex and transsexual couples, and that many heterosexual couples also bond for life without offspring, or that often pairs that do have offspring separate.

Thus, the concept of marriage is changing widely in many countries.